Philippine Public Transportation and Metro Manila’s Squatters

On the wayside of an outrage fiesta over Metro Manila’s teeming population of squattersPiñata, people seem to have missed a gaily colored solution piñata: public transportation.

After people have salved their poverty butthurt and middle-class angst, perhaps it would be a good idea to revisit a column in Manila Standard called “Happy Hour” where it was pointed out that poor public transportation tends to increase the demand for housing in urban areas.

The idea is simple, really.

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If we had a cheap, efficient, and reliable public transportation system, it would be possible for people to live in rural areas and then commute to work in Metro Manila.  Here’s an excerpt from Happy Hour’s “Babying the DoTC”:

So how is transportation related to the huge growth of informal settlers? Well, given the number of hours you spend in traffic (maybe four hours, both ways), wouldn’t it make a whole lot more sense to just live in your office, store, or factory?

In fact, a lot of well researched articles on poverty and in-migration cite a proportional relationship between poor quality, high cost transportation and the increased need for urban-based housing for the poor a.k.a. potential or actual informal settlers. This was explained at Global Urban Development Magazine citing a study on Sri Lanka’s informal settlers and transportation. One of its conclusions said, “… the relationship of transport facilities, distances between work and housing and the value of land have a close relationship. The need to provide for city center housing for the poor increases with poor transport facilities. Thus land use policy should take into account the quality of transport services that are available.”

One of the solutions to a booming urban informal settler population, which also concretizes long-clamored for “decentralization” is to have a cheap, efficient, and reliable public transportation system in place. Such a public transport system, if and when it happens, would make it more possible for poor people to live in rural areas and still work in the city.

A couple of months back, the DOTC very boldly said it will finish P500 billion worth of infra projects by the time President Noynoy Aquino finished his term in 2016 (which means by June that year). Let’s see: Airport projects in Puerto Princesa, Panglao, Mactan, Bicol and the NAIA rehab; various LRT extension projects in Cavite, in Masinag (Pasig); Cebu Bus Rapid Transit System; Davao wharf project; the MRT-3 and MRT-7 projects plus automated fare collection system for LRT and MRT; intermodal stations in the metro including the revival of a ferry system covering Laguna Lake-Pasig River-Manila Bay.

So how is the DOTC doing so far? Journalists/columnists seem to be underwhelmed, their accounts indicating that DOTC is not exactly doing much of the right thing with the list of still-to-be-awarded projects plus stories of alleged “extortion attempts” piling up the way traffic becomes kilometric along EDSA after a two-car collision!

Right now, one of the key pressures driving people with low-incomes or informal sources of income to live in slum areas is poor public transportation.

Just assume that the average cost of a two way trip with a total length of 16 kilometers (8 kilometers one way) is anything from 50 to 100 pesos and at its worst, it takes two hours to complete one trip (including waiting time at boarding stations).  This means that the average Pinoy has to shell out as much as 1/3 of his daily minimum wage and lose 4 hours of his time in traffic — often arriving at his place of work too frazzled to be effective or arriving home too tired to have any meaningful interaction with their family.

In a way, perhaps, the lousy public transportation we have could be the very reason why Juan is tamad (lazy), cannot attend to his duties as a father, and takes home such a small amount of money (around 250 pesos, assuming he is getting the full minimum wage).

Of course, one option commonly taken by the minimum wage earner is to just rent a room within walking distance from his work place and where else can the minimum wage earner find cheap accommodations but in slum areas.  In fact, in decades gone by, this is the reason why we had areas in Manila (places like Tondo and Sampaloc) almost completely settled in by laborers.

If only the Administration’s slogan “Tuwid na Daan” signified a strong commitment to giving the country a cheap, efficient, and reliable public transportation system, perhaps we would see a reduction in the population of Metro Manila’s squatters.

But guess what?

That’s not going to happen in a department known as “Do-Nothingness Meets Decidophobia” or the Department of Transportation and Communication, a department that was previously headed and some say is still very much under the control of my former boss, Mar Roxas.

We can trade barbs over the squatter situation, or perhaps, this early, we can tell Mr. Decidophobia that if he wants to have a good chance of winning in 2016 either as a senator again or as a Presidential candidate, he better tell his proxy at the DoTC ( Emilio Abaya) to start implementing transportation projects ASAP.

27 Replies to “Philippine Public Transportation and Metro Manila’s Squatters”

  1. Why do I find this article not convincing and a tad bit shallow? It must be the tone, plus throwing out a journal based in Sri Lanka doesn’t really support your argument that much due to the differences in the values of our society which is most probably different from Sri Lanka. But it was good to put out at least some basis. Multiple Philippine based articles would have helped.

    Moving on.

    Try to think, why do they squat in metro Manila anyway? Are you sure its because of jobs? Are most of them even employed? Or do they just make small scale businesses? I think it would be more feasible to improve the available “jobs”, agriculture or manufacturing in the rural areas. So that they STAY there rather than seek better opportunities in Metro Manila which they are, most probably, less qualified for.

    1. Hiya Vince!

      Phew! And some people say we GRP writers are perpetual nitpickers… Haha!

      I actually had to rush this one and there were many other references that I could have included, but didn’t.

      As for being shallow, well, what would you consider deep and do solutions necessarily have to be deep or profound?

      I find that people sometimes overwork themselves with complicated ideas that the solution becomes unworkable, if not outright fantastic.

      Take the Broken Windows Theory. Simply keeping a place clean, well lighted, and well maintained thwarts criminal activity.

      Simple and doable.

      Thing with public transportation is that the Philippines doesn’t really have a real working system in its true sense. What we have are a bag of parts.

      As for this “I think it would be more feasible to improve the available “jobs”, agriculture or manufacturing in the rural areas. So that they STAY there rather than seek better opportunities in Metro Manila which they are, most probably, less qualified for.”

      This is true and will probably be even easier to accomplish with a cheap, reliable, and efficient public transport system.

      As for squatters, a lot of people in squatter communities do have jobs or livelihood — informal, formal, and what-have-you, just not all of the time.

      I can say this with confidence for at least in three communities in Manila that I visit from time to time and I assume it’s pretty much the same situation in other squatter communities.

      The thing is, these are LOW income communities and not NO income communities.

      The reason why some of these people come and live in squatter communities are varied. Some have been born there and chose to stay there. Some came from other parts of Metro Manila and chose to stay in the community because it’s near their place of work. But whatever their reasons are, they usually stay in squatter communities because it’s either cheap or a free place to stay.

  2. he can start doing something great OR again – by the wonders of the PCOS machines – ahah! there – they’ll program it again and viola! we have a winner!

  3. The essay is unconvincing because the article cited uses Sri Lanka’s squatter problem vis-à-vis mass transportation as an example? What about “People and Housing in Third World Cities” by D. J. Dwyer (1977) or “Man’s Struggle for Shelter in an Urbanizing World” by Charles Abrams (1964)? There are also studies by the World Bank — “Evaluation of Shelter Programs for the Urban Poor: Principle Findings” by Douglas Keare and Scott Parris (1982).

    The causes (and effects) of squatting — excuse me, “informal settlers” — have been documented for several decades. None of them contradict the Global Urban Development article.

    Over the past fifty years it has been established that the millions of poor in urban areas are indications that social and economic conditions in the country’s rural areas are deteriorating. Limited resources — financial or otherwise — as well as the lack of access to them, have prompted rural dwellers with (relatively) few skills to migrate to cities in an attempt to improve their quality of living. In the cities, they face the dilemma of adequate housing and resort to illegally occupying vacant land and/or property to provide rudimentary shelter. That kicked off the squatter “problem.” The failure of government to adequately address the broader social and financial issues that created it, caused the condition to fester into the malignant cancer it has become today.

    “Try to think, why do they squat in metro Manila anyway?”

    That question suggests you have not visited the poorest areas of the Philippines — the RURAL areas far removed from the political and economic centers of Metro Manila. EVER! If you bothered to do so (or at least attempted to gather information about those areas, even on the Internet) you would find that the conditions there are much worse than in the National Capitol Region. The very reason that rural dwellers decide to migrate to Manila regardless of the horror stories they may have heard is that a lot of migrants feel there is no future in the countryside. This is reflected in the fact that only a select number of provinces can sustain themselves, with the majority relying on allocations from the national government and their representatives’ pork barrel.

    Speaking of solutions to the problems of squatting and urban crowding, an efficient mass transport system IS A SOLUTION. Or at least a major part of the solution. Praying for economic development to come along DOES NOT address a problem that exists NOW. At any rate, a mass transit system is a must for any urbanized/urbanizing area. Which is what a rural areas will eventually become if economic prosperity is realized.

    In many other countries, people live far from the central city but they have an efficient mass transit system in place that allows them to commute daily. Because the Philippines doesn’t have an affordable and reliable transport system, all sorts of make shift solutions from jeepneys and tricycles, to FX “shuttles” and reckless buses, clog our streets and highways. Those who can buy more cars and that’s also a big part of the traffic problem.

    A proper mass transit system extends the city limits to the adjoining provinces. That will enable people to live a little farther away where property prices are more reasonable and still keep their city jobs.

    Furthermore, resettlement areas, like Sapang Palay in Bulacan, once considered too far from viable employment opportunities, become more attractive options if settlers have access to cheap public transportation back to the metropolis.

    1. Good one Johnny!

      I should remember those references you put out and include that in another post I plan to make. Very helpful!

      One thing that the first Aquino Administration really let go off was the PNR. That was a huge, huge mistake.

      It was actually during the latter part of the first Aquino administration and throughout the Ramos Administration that the population of informal settlers on the Riles increased quite a bit.

      Thing is, FVR should have been more serious about re-developing the railway.

      It wasn’t until Gloria Arroyo that most of the railways were cleared of squatters.

      Right now, the extension of that railway seems to have been stalled, along with the extension of the LRT/MRT lines and the one supposedly stalling these projects is Mar Roxas through his proxy Emilio Abaya.

      1. I don’t know if Jun Abaya is completely to blame. As I understand it your old boss still sits in on meetings with the section heads he brought in. Abaya is more of a figurehead than anything else. No real decision making power.

        Mar Roxas is like the Ghost of Christmas Past. He won’t go away. (Or maybe he’s like a case of herpes. You think it’s cleared up but the infected end up passing it on 😉 )

  4. sana may bulet train, subway system, double decker bus system, amtrak, etc tayo dito sa Phil… kaya naman natin bumili nun diba? ayaw lang ..tsk tsk…

    pano na kaya ang ncr nyan, pano nalang pag baha+trafic+dami tao, etc etc??

    complete overhaul cgro sa transport system ang kelangan, wel just my 2cents..

  5. I agree that an efficient, affordable mass transportation is one solution to the problem of decongesting the Metro and making resettlement outside the Metro a viable option for the squatters, and perhaps even the working middleclass and upperclass. An example is my previous experience working in UK wherein my rented place is 20km from my work in central London (i.e. equivalent to working in Makati with home residence in Novaliches or Imus, Cavite or Morong, Rizal) which only takes me about 40 min via London Tube. One of my boss who lives 40km from our London office (i.e. equivalent to working in Makati with home residence in Plaridel, Bulacan or Silang, Cavite) takes him about an hour going to work via train + London Tube. Hence, having an efficient and reliable mass transportation makes an attractive option even for working middle/upperclass to relocate outside the congested Metro Manila.

    1. You see, that’s the thing that this administration should try to accomplish and perhaps that alone would be a great accomplishment, manifesting “Daang Matuwid” in a very concrete way.

      Moreover, rather than dole outs like the CCT, I think it would be better for the government to provide transportation subsidies for low income earners — minimum wage earners.

      1. You mean they might actually have to face the prospect that they will run out of excuses for the squatters not to work? Qué horror!

  6. I agree with the most sentiments here in the comments section that the write up is a fail. It is high time the writer changes his career from writing to cleaning.

    1. oy vey, you really went retard there with your post, TROLL. What’s the matter? You ran out of ammunition again and now you resort to heckling the author without bothering to read?
      No wonder you always get humiliated here, you have really low E.Q and I.Q

      Fact is that you fail again

  7. IBM have this week ‘ donated’ the services of 12 of their consultants from abroad for free to help solve the traffic problem.
    a) ibm will get their pound of flesh in other ways.
    b) sad that for every problem there are no skills/abilities in the country to solve them, and tge philippines always want something for nothing from others and have to run crying asking for free help.

    1. I don’t believe the problem is caused by a lack of experts in country. Rather it is the persistence of a succession of less than competent bureaucrats who DISTRUST local talent. Likely for fear of being shown up as incompetents in front of their peers.

      1. True. We do have sufficient technical skills to solve the transportation problem. It’s just our bureaucrats don’t want to appear dumb and that the politicians are not willing to take risks on their political career if the structural solutions are implemented because of potential displacement of their constituents on the right-of-way of these infrastructure. Furthermore, there’s this cultural aversion in undertaking megaprojects.

        For example, I proposed a solution (in another online forum) for Metro Manila addressing multiple issues such transportation/traffic, flood management, waste management, urban redevelopment, and enhanced economic activity. The solution involves moving the current NAIA/MIA airports to an artificial island (through reclamation) several kilometers west of Manila, to be connected via underground tunnel (or over the water bridge) and intermodal transport and interchange infrastructures (i.e. air-to-rail, air-to-sea, air-to-highway, etc.)to Metro Manila’s major transportation hubs (such as provincial railway stations, LRT/MRT stations, bus stations, ports, NLEX/SLEX connector roads, etc.)i. The reclaimed materials will be coming from:

        a.) dredged silts of the PASAMAR river systems (Pasig, San Juan, & Marikina), NMTT River systems (Navotas-Malabon-Tenejeros-Tullahan), Paranaque River and their tributaries and its esteros ==>Metro Manila’s natural waterways;

        b.) dredged materials from Laguna Lake

        c.) dredged silts of Bulacan river delta & river systems and its tributaries (Marilao-Meycauayan-Obando river, Calumpit river, Angat river)

        d.) dredged silts and lahar of Pampanga river delta

        e.) treated waste materials from dumpsites and landfills of metropolis and provinces adjacent Manila Bay (Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Pampanga, Bataan).

        Besides addressing the inefficient domestic and international NAIA terminals as country’s premier air transportation hubs, the proposed solution also addresses the following major issues:

        1.) Flooding

        – By doing (a), you are thereby clearing and increasing the capacity & efficiency of Metro Manila’s natural waterways thus a more flood-resilient Metro Manila

        – By doing (b), you are increasing the carrying capacity thus increasing the flood resiliency of Rizal & Laguna municipalities surrounding Laguna Lake.

        – By doing (c) & (d), you are increasing the flood resiliency of Pampanga & Bulacan provinces thus never again Ondoy,’Pedring’ & ‘Quiel’ devastation

        2.) Traffic

        – By removing the airport in the middle of densely populated metropolis, you are decongesting Metro Manila’s traffic problem. A freeway/expressway, even a railway traversing the heart of Metro Manila is now more feasible by removing/rerouting the unnecessary road networks that used to be the ‘arteries’ of the road network system to-and-fro both the international & domestic airports. The tunnel from airport and the intermodal transport and interchange infrastructures to the major transportation hubs further increases the efficiency to regional movement.

        – By doing (a), (b), (c), and (d),preferably up to navigable depths, you are providing an alternative mode of transportation – water transportation. This is particularly important to local/domestic tanker and cargo ships because increasing their traffic volume, number and distance of routes means reduction of traditional land-based movement of goods by cargo/haul and tanker trucks in our roads.

        3.) Waste management

        – By doing (e), you are increasing the capacities (and even maybe reopening) of existing landfills thus no need for new land fills. By removing the contents of existing fills, you are increasing the buffer for waste disposal for future generations. Also, by removing and rehabilitating existing land fills, these landfills can be utilised to produce electricity by building and installing a waste-to-power generation plant = a more sustainable approach to waste management.

        4.) Increased Biodiversity
        – By doing (a), (b), (c), and (d), you are potentially reviving the river ecosystem thus attracting different river/estuarine life and migratory birds.

        5.) Urban Redevelopment

        – Removing the airports will also remove the restriction of erecting tall buildings. Currently, building in Metro Manila are restricted to build up to 250 m (even lower as you go near the airport) due to air traffic requirement from Civil Aviation Authority. Without height restrictions, we can now build taller buildings thus a more efficient use of space.

        – The area occupied by the airports is prime real estate thus it can be sold to private developers. The income generated from this WILL be used to as part of the fund for the development of the new airport in an artificial island in Manila Bay

        – Or use the space to develop worthy of hosting an Olympic event!

        6.) Enhanced economic activity

        – By addressing the issue on traffic and efficient logistics of goods and people, you are increasing the economic activities.

        – Having an urban redeveloment will trigger the influx of money to real estate and construction industry and other spillover industries thus providing jobs and an increase in economic activity in the region.”

        The above mentioned solution is an amalgamation of inter-related megaprojects addressing several issues in one major undertaking which will take much longer time than any president’s term. Thus, megaprojects like these in other countries, bills/laws are enacted and agencies are created to be the administrator/manager and implement the project (regardless of who is the current country leader) to maintain continuity and stay on-track. The implementing/administrator/managing agency, in turn, is/will be co-terminus to the completion of the project.

  8. From a European/Dutch point of view:

    Efficient and affordable do NOT go hand in hand. Train prices in UK are high (at least that is my experience); train prices in the Netherlands are also high. This means that commutting by car is as almost as expensive as going by train while the government wants people to travel by train (less pollution). By far not everyone owns a hybrid or electric car (running on batteries). And commutting by train doesnt bring the commutter straignt in front of his office building; it always needs additional travelling (bus, tram, metro/tube/underground, biking, walking).

    The poor people will always live where the housing price is the lowest and mostly they will live close to other family members. They mostly live in the same city where they work (and in the cheapest neighborhoods). They will go to work by the cheapest form of transportation (not the fastest).

    1. Good point there Robert about efficiency and affordability, that’s why I was thinking that fare should be subsidized. I haven’t really thought of it extensively, but perhaps the subsidy should be available to people living a certain distance away from the city.

      As far as housing prices are concerned, house rental cost in the provinces or rural areas of the Philippines is still lower. Moreover, the cost of food is lower and public schools are not as crowded as they are in the city.

      1. And that’s why the FREE MARKET will be the best determinant of transportation costs. The debacle we have had over the last 30 years with respect to fares and tolls on the SLEX and NLEX reflect the wrongheaded approach to the mass transport problem. We HAVE subsidized tolls, fares, road maintenance costs and all its gotten the riding public is a massive shock when the government proposes a fare hike of several hundred percent to reflect the current market costs. Subsidies are a bad idea. They eventually get you into the mindset that the CCT is a great idea that should have expanded coverage, or that the onus of relocating squatters MUST be the sole responsibility of the owner of the land and the government that the owner pays taxes to. Sooner or later the fad activists will be clamoring for free rides. Do we want this perennial problem to be solved or do are we okay with a halfhearted approach that will kick the problem down the line?

      2. Hi Paul,

        I can only share here with you how things work in my country regarding subsidized public transport and maybe it is applicable to the Phili situation ever.

        Only pensioners (65+ of age) get discount on bus fares (and maybe also train fares, not sure about this). And maybe scholars,pupils, students get discounts. This system only works if the filing of the population is in good hands. And distance is not a criteria for getting discounts or rebates. Then the person has to move closer to his work/job/employment.

        Maybe its an option to build seperate bike lanes so that people can bike to work safely. Maybe they can start to make the existing public transport more efficient so that there is less time lost on hopping on and off where ever passengers want (jeepney and busses in Cebu, so it seems), maybe its time to work with fixed (bus/jeepney) stops and fixed time tables. Maybe they can widen the so-called “highways” (that dont deserve to be called “highways”).

        Its quite irritating and annoying that a simple 67 km Ceres bus trip takes almost always 2 hrs (one way; from Cebu City bus terminal south to Argao proper).

  9. a good point. too much traffic for laborers to even want to try to make it home after working all day in the blazing sun. and for what? 5, count ’em, 5 fuckin dollars?
    it can be understood why people would rather sell drugs, gamble, OR thieve their way through life than be a fuckin slave. it really is too bad that the country has such low-paid workers, a disgrace really.

    1. A couple of relatives of mine are building contractors and usually, for jobs that last more than a month, the workers sleep on the work site.

      Usually, the workers are paid below minimum wage.

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